NME – Flying high with the ‘Stranger Things’ star and indie-folk troubadour
“I don’t understand how kids watch Stranger Things,” says Maya Hawke, eyes widening at the thought of young minds deciphering the sci-fi hit’s wacky universe. She’s not shocked because of the increasingly dark turns the show is taking, but because of the complex storylines that weave throughout the series. “It’s so confusing!”
Hawke has been a part of TV’s biggest franchise since season three when she joined the cast as rambling ice cream waitress – and fledgling sidekick to Steve Harrington – Robin Buckley. In just two seasons, she’s seen some of the series’ most iconic moments – from the apocalyptic Battle Of Starcourt Mall, or the fight against creepy, vengeful villain Vecna in this month’s season four finale.
“Everything goes so bad,” she sighs, remembering the grim way the show left things. “It’s so sad about Max [spoiler: Sadie Sink’s plucky highschooler is now in a coma]. It’s devastating and awesome but also like… ‘what?!’”
While Max’s future hanging in the balance is a gloomy cliffhanger for this season to end on, it’s another character’s fate that has got fans up in arms. More than one petition has popped up on change.org – and one with more than 60,000 signatures – calling for metalhead and Hellfire Club leader Eddie Munson (Joseph Quinn) to be revived for the final episodes.
“I totally sympathise with fans who want to see more of him,” Hawke says diplomatically, but there’s a caveat to her commiserations. “I feel like we can’t keep killing people and bringing them back to life – the same fans would be so annoyed! But I would love them to find a way to have Eddie’s ghost in the mix, just because Joe Quinn is such an awesome guy. He’s so much fun to have on set and such a great actor.” Returning next year without him, she adds affectionately, will be like “losing a weird limb”.
Ghosts or no ghosts, season five will mark the end of the Stranger Things story. While fans are theorising about where the Hawkins teens’ journey might go next, Hawke is choosing not to worry – for the most part. “I trust the [Duffer] brothers so much,” she says. “If I was a writer and my actors were always going in the press talking about what they thought I should do with the character, I’d be like, ‘Uh, I got this?’ So I trust them completely to have a great story arc for Robin.” She stops for a second to think and throws in one small suggestion: “I hope she gets to kiss somebody – somebody she likes. That would be cool for her.”
Since landing her part in the Netflix phenomenon, Hawke’s career has only soared, snagging more and more interesting and bigger parts. Later this year, she’ll appear in Wes Anderson’s top-secret new movie Asteroid City – an experience she talks about giddily. “It was the best ever – everyone was awesome; he’s amazing,” she grins. “I loved it – loved it!”
Working with the acclaimed filmmaker, she found a “coincidental” kinship between their approaches. “The way he works is the way I really like to work,” she explains. “He has a really clear vision for how the character moves and what they’re going to say, where they’re going to stand and what they want. Then he gives you so much freedom to fill in that humanity around those parameters.” In contrast, she says, others like to “get to know their character’s soul”.
After Asteroid City, Hawke will appear in new thriller The Kill Room alongside another Hollywood icon – her mum, Uma Thurman. It won’t be the first time she’s been on screen with one of her parents (who are divorced). In 2020, she featured in an episode of The Good Lord Bird opposite dad Ethan Hawke.
“I didn’t get those jobs as any other actor – I didn’t audition for those jobs,” she says truthfully, very aware of the privilege that comes with having parents who’ve already succeeded in the industry. “It was like, ‘It’d be so fun if you were here and we could do this together because it’s hard to be together’.” On set, there’s no pretence that they are anything but parents and daughter: “God no! It’s super familial when we work together.”
Now established as a bankable Hollywood name in her own right – though she’s reluctant to admit it – Hawke says she’s grown up a lot since NME last sat down with her in 2020. “I feel like I’ve heard a lot of people say this before, but getting older is really getting younger,” she says, swinging side-to-side in her chair. Hawke shares Robin’s frenetic energy – and often barrels from observation to observation without pausing. “When you’re young, you want to be old, so badly, and you’re so afraid and freaked out. I’m really enjoying becoming more playful, more excited, more myself, less afraid, more confident.”
She launches into a metaphor about high school crushes and how you initially think you fancy the person all your friends fancy but, as the validation of others starts to matter less, you let your own taste dictate your crush. “I feel the same way about art,” she says. “When I was younger, I wanted the jobs everyone else wanted. I wanted to make songs everyone liked. Now, I feel like when you do things because other people want them or like them, all other people smell is a liar. The best way to communicate with the world is to be the most yourself – and then if people like it or hate it, at least you were you.”
As well as being one of the most exciting young actors around, Hawke, 23, is an equally talented musician. In 2020, she released her debut album ‘Blush’ – a minimalist collection of poetic folk – and, in September, she’ll return with her second record, ‘Moss’. The new project is bolder, lusher and richer, deviating from the bare-bones approach of its predecessor and signalling an artist beginning to blossom with confidence.
“When I was making ‘Blush’, I wanted to do as little as possible to avoid making mistakes,” she explains. “I wanted it to be as stripped-back as possible, I didn’t want to put reverb on my voice, I didn’t want any electronic instruments. I think I’ve learned now to be like, ‘Let’s make mistakes, let’s aspire to sound how we actually want to sound – even if it means embarrassing ourselves for being try-hards’.”
During the height of the pandemic, when sets were shut down and touring was called off, Hawke wrote songs instead. She was quarantining with her younger brother Levon, who she calls an “amazing guitar player”, and the pair would spend hours each day singing and playing together. Working with someone she knows so intimately helped her shrug off the intimidation she usually feels in the studio.
“Even though I think he’s a better musician than me, I trust Levon enough to share my bad ideas with him,” she says. “[Working on] them together and some of them not being bad gave me a lot more confidence when I went in to make ‘Moss’.” When Hawke speaks – whether it’s about acting or music – she does so from a position of humility, aware that just because she’s had some critical acclaim doesn’t mean she’s suddenly a maestro in either field. Knowledge, she suggests, is key to being able to create. Hawke, above all, wants to grow and improve.
She describes ‘Thérèse’, the first single from ‘Moss’, as about being “stuck as a version of yourself that someone else created”, but rather than relating that to fame, she tells NME it’s about “gender and misogyny and the way women are generally looked at from a young age as sexual creatures.”
The title and the central idea for the song came from a painting Hawke saw in New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art by the late Polish-French painter Balthus, called Thérèse Dreaming. In it, an 11-year-old girls sits with her hands on her head, eyes closed, and her leg perched on a stool so her underwear is visible. It’s a piece that has caused much controversy because of the model’s demeanour and age. In her new track, Hawke uses the character to sing about “the secret spaces” she’s built for herself. Spaces which help her to break out from society’s suffocating ideas around femininity.
“It’s written from the point of view of my high school self,” she says, noting that much of ‘Moss’ looks back at that period, sharing the “songs I wish I’d written when I was 15”. While in ‘teen mode’, she took inspiration from past acting roles, many of which saw her play younger than she actually is. “In the acting world, you often get cast to play 14 at 16, 16 at 20 – what’s cool about that is you know a lot more about what it means to be 14 when you’re 16. So I’ve been taking that ethos and using it in my music.”
Going back to that time of her life is interesting to Hawke because that was when “a lot of things felt possible”. As she got older, stuff like school, society, self-consciousness shut those feelings down, and made her think she needed to be only one thing. “But when you look back, you go, ‘Remember when I was everything? Maybe I’m still everything’.”
‘Moss’ doesn’t so much unlock parts of Hawke that were previously suppressed as it does showcase that eureka moment. “Making this record felt like a break, like a beginning,” she says. “Since then – and it’s probably what my next record will be about – I’ve started feeling freer and exploring more. But since I made the break, everything’s going really great.”
As an outsider looking in, it’s hard to disagree. It seems like Hawke is just getting started. “I’m really hungry to keep learning and get better at all the things I’m doing,” she nods. “There are so many things I want to be doing… But I’m 23, I’m not in any hurry.”
Maya Hawke’s new album, ‘Moss’, will be released on September 23